February 24 2009 10:51AM
The Columbus Franchise did two notable things recently that have turned the team from a weak sister into an up-and-comer: replaced Doug MacLean with Scott Howson and hired Ken Hitchcock.
Howson has made a number of savvy, under-the-radar moves since becoming the cub's GM - grabbing Jan Hejda, Mike Peca, Jason Williams and recently Chris Gratton for little to nothing and moving Nikolai Zherdev for a couple of capable blueliners in Christian Backman and Fedor Tyutin. His signings of Mike Commodore and Kristian Huselius were roundly criticized as over payments during the summer, but they are actually looking more and more like value contracts, especially when compared to some of the other work done in the off-season by a few of his contemporaries.
Ken Hitchcock is one of the best coaches in the business and is a good fit for a team lacking firepower given his defensive proclivities. Under his tutelage, Rick Nash has gone from a one-dimensional sniper who was little more than a liability to a well-rounded, legitimate power forward who can play against anyone and succeed. He's on the road to becoming Jarome Iginla dominant in a few years.
With these two guys at the helm and some nice, young talent in the hopper (Kris Russel, Steve Mason, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov, Derek Brassard) the BJ's aren't a joke anymore. The future is bright and it's not like they're push-overs in the present: they tend to out-shoot their opponents most nights and only a rocky first month or two marked by worse than average goaltending has them scratching for a play-off spot currently. They're depth may be underwhelming (for now), but there's no looking past these guys to the next game - the years of Columbus being an easy two points are over.